Religion Meets: The Death Penalty, Easter Bunny and Jesus My Homeboy

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Colorado law requires jurors to place sentencing decisions in the broad context of individual moral assessment rather than simply basing their decision on the narrow confines of the law. It appears that this is OK so long as the Bible is not the basis for one’s moral foundation. At least that’s the way I read the decision to overturn a jury’s death penalty sentence after it was learned that jurors had used the Bible in the formulation of their moral position.

Read the full NYT account or this excerpt: “After Mr. Harlan’s conviction, the judge in the case – as Colorado law requires – sent the jury off to deliberate about the death penalty with an instruction to think beyond the narrow confines of the law. Each juror, the judge told the panel, must make an “individual moral assessment,” in deciding whether Mr. Harlan should live¢â‚¬¦ The jurors voted unanimously for death. The State Supreme Court’s decision changes that sentence to life in prison without parole. In the decision on Monday, the dissenting judges said the majority had confused the internal codes of right and wrong that juries are expected to possess in such weighty moral matters with the outside influences that are always to be avoided, like newspaper articles or television programs about the case¢â‚¬¦ The jurors consulted Bibles, the minority said, not to look for facts or alternative legal interpretations, but for wisdom. “The biblical passages the jurors discussed constituted either a part of the jurors’ moral and religious precepts or their general knowledge, and thus were relevant to their court-sanctioned moral assessment,” the minority wrote.”

The idea that the government is the highest authority is foreign to our nation’s founding documents and it could be argued that religious freedom was preserved in the Bill of Rights precisely because it was a common and important way of informing the citizenry’s moral opinions. One can read the Bible and reach different conclusions about the appropriateness of the death penalty that is a far cry from telling people not to use the Bible in forming their moral judgment.

The NYT carried the continuation of this front-page story on page A12 where they placed the balance of the story under a photo of an Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn. It strikes me that this is a metaphor for how many people view religion’s proper place in a liberal society. Safe, Neat, Removed from the weighty issues of life. Easter bunnies and Santa are defanged versions of the robust all-inclusive faith of Jesus.

Another story carries a similar message. “Wearing their beliefs on their chests” is about religious symbols in fashion. Ashton Kutcher wears the “Jesus is My Homeboy T-shirt” (above) as a fashion statement un-tethered from the confines of religion.

America, a land of fashion and Easter egg hunts and Santa’s in malls, seems comfortable with symbols of religious life and seems traumatized by religious people who actually allow their faith to be a factor in deciding right and wrong.

In typical fashion the radical distorted Islam of terrorists is being likened to the religious fervor of Christian conservatives and then used as a reason why we must drive the wedge deeper between religion and public life. The Colorado case seems an example of the irrational, a-historical religious bigotry proudly proclaimed by today’s smug, self-satisfied secularist.

CS Lewis got it right. Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or who he said he was, the Lord. And if Jesus is Lord there is not one square inch of this planet or our personal lives that does not fall under the purview of his judgment. This holds even in Colorado, for it is a state within one nation that protects the right of free religious expression, and operates at the pleasure as a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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